Rocky Mount has taken a significant stride forward toward continued economic development by creating a position to take the town’s economy and cultural opportunities to the next level.

Key to this position is this buzzword: “Placemaking.” In fact, the position’s title, which is director of economic and cultural placemaking, carries with it this notion.

Placemaking is all about addressing elements that together create an atmosphere, an environment for our town that makes it a compelling place to live as well as visit. Here’s what Assistant Town Manager Matt Hankins recently said about this position: “We’ve built the strong foundation with the Harvester and some of the other activities that we’ve created around town and now somebody’s going to come in and add additional blocks to that, to build on it and make it stronger.”

Placemaking has been underway in Rocky Mount in earnest since 2014, with the advent of the Harvester. In the past five years, this entertainment venue on Franklin Street has had not only a cultural impact on Rocky Mount, but also an economic one.

Statistics cited by Hankins are proof of that. In 2014, the town’s meals tax take was $1.1 million. This year, it’s estimated to be $700,000 more, primarily due to the audiences drawn to the Harvester from the region and beyond. Clearly, Rocky Mount is altogether better off today than it was five years ago, not only due to additional revenues, but also due to the cultural enrichment from the Harvester that’s made our town an entertainment destination.

There’s more, of course, to placemaking than the Harvester. The town recently committed just under $20,000 to purchase a nine-speaker sound system for downtown, a move that will provide an audio enhancement to the experience of being in Rocky Mount at various seasons and times of the year.

Already in place are destination experiences such as the Rocky Mount Farmers Market and the old Franklin Street train depot’s Community and Hospitality Center. Both these and other attractions can be enhanced with some creativity from this new position envisioned by the town.

Then there’s legacy events such as the Franklin County Moonshine Festival that can continue to grow and evolve as a singular experience for visitors and residents alike. Also, there’s the downtown mural project that creates a visual focal point for downtown regulars and visitors alike.

Meanwhile, of course, this position also will be responsible for economic development downtown in the more traditional sense, such as negotiating with small business prospects for locating their stores in available spaces. Overall, however, this position is about enriching the experience of being at the heart of Rocky Mount. Town Manager James Ervin summed it up nicely: “If you look at localities that are succeeding and thriving…their core focus in the last couple of decades has been on simply being a place where people want to be. If you can crack that nut, the rest sort of falls into place.”

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